Our Interns at the Highland Games

Whilst the rest of the country was sweltering in the heat, two of the Oxford University summer interns at Auchindrain were able to enjoy a sunny day out at the Inveraray Highland Games. 



By Cam Dickson and Isla Chaplin


The first bus from Campbeltown got us to Inveraray well before the parade to the showground, but even at 9am weather was unusually warm for Argyll, so we took the opportunity to buy the sunhats we’d thought we wouldn’t need to pack, and stock up on Scottish tablet from the sweet shop on the High Street. The street began to fill up with locals and tourists alike – we even spotted some familiar faces who had visited us at Auchindrain the previous week, now decked out in their finest Clan Campbell green and blue tartan.


Before long, we were following the Inveraray & District Pipe Band down the road from the church into the grounds of the castle, where trade stands, food trucks, highland dancing and a funfair were already set up. The sound of bagpipes lingered for the rest of the day, with the tunes from the individual piping competitions emanating from the various tents scattered around the main ring.


Already somewhat hot and tired (we did not come to Argyll prepared for heat), we collapsed in some shade to watch the athletics competitions getting underway, and rallied ourselves for a trip around the trade stands. Local branches of the Armed Forces were well represented both in the stalls and in the races, shoulder-to-shoulder with local crafts, fairground games, and even a fortune teller. The tent occupied by the German Campbell Society was already very merry, adding to the international spirit of the games. We are unashamed to say that the highlight for both of us was the food: after a venison burger, a hog roast and a pint of Tennent’s we found a ringside spot to sit and watch the heavy events.



Our spot was perfect for watching the weight throwing. The competitors, like the audience, were a diverse group, with athletes from Scotland facing off against representatives from Belgium, Poland and Czechia. We were particularly impressed with the creative approach to traditional dress – one athlete wore a kilt paired with a Harley Davidson tank top, and another sported tan Timberland boots! Neither of us answered the call for wrestling competitors, nor did we enter the foot race to win a bottle of whisky, but we certainly enjoyed watching it all! Before long, the netting was cleared and the cabers laid out for the day’s big event: The World Caber Tossing Championship.


For the uninitiated (like us) caber tossing is quite a thing to watch. A ‘caber’, the long thin tree branches traditionally used in the roofs of thatched old houses, is lifted vertically and thrown. The aim is to flip the caber head-over-heels and have it land at a perfect 12 o’clock, falling in the right place for the roof. It is the culmination of the strength and skill practiced in the other heavy events. It is accuracy, rather than distance, which earns a competitor a good score, though the short run from the pick-up to the throw is difficult enough and caused more than a few wobbles before the caber was even tossed. The proceedings were punctuated by a musical interlude from the Royal Marines and another appearance from the Inveraray & District Pipe Band, who surely restored any wavering faith in the bagpipes as the background drone of the solo competition entered its fifth hour.


No Scottish event, however, would have been complete without a downpour. Despite the heatwave, the gathering clouds burst in dramatic fashion as the final round of caber tossing was about to start. All but the most intrepid members of the crowd scattered as gazebos and sheet music went flying. Still, a memorable end to a memorable day of traditional games. Next time we will make sure to pack a sunhat and a waterproof!